difference: coral vs. worm reefs

christine.schoenberg christine.schoenberg at mail.uni-oldenburg.de
Sun Aug 5 06:49:56 EDT 2001

Dear Patricia,

I am working on bioeroding sponges, which attack coral and worm reefs. You
will have some idea what a coral reef is, so I guess you are more
interested in the worm reefs. I may be able to give you some information on
them or where to find more.

The worm reef I have seen is at Bathtub Beach, Hutchinson Island, Stuart,
Florida, USA. As I understood it's protected and quite a unique structure
of which not many exist in the world. Such worm reefs are massive
structures composed of clusters of oval, table-like mounds. They consist of
sediments consolidated by a mucoprotein cement produced by the bristle worm
Phragmatopoma. I can send you some photos in JPEG format if you like. This
reef starts right in the intertidal zone extending down to about 6m into
the subtidal, but there are also worm reefs in deeper water, I seem to
remember that there was a cold water worm reef off Denmark, but I don't
recall which worms build them. I could provide you with 2 literature copies
about the worm reef in Florida (see below).

Kirtley, DW 1992. Built to last. Worm reefs. A feat of natural engineering.
Florida Oceanogr. Soc. 13(3): 12-19.

Pandolfi, JM, Robertson, DR, Kirtley, DW 1998. Roles for worms in
reef-building. Coral Reefs 17: 120.

There should be another Kirtley paper from 1966. I found maybe 5 more
citations in a literature search done with various key words related to
worm reefs, but I don't have copies of them yet.

For more detailed information you could write to Dan McCarthy at Harbor
Branch Oceanographic Institution, who's done his PhD on that particular
reef in Florida (McCarthy at hboi.edu).

To come back to your original question: what's the difference?

A coral reef (i.e. coral) is made of calcium carbonate secreted by corals.
A worm reef is all sorts of sediments (carbonates, silicates) of the right
grain size stuck together in a matrix produced by bristle worms. I would
assume that a worm reef grows with increasing sedimentation, whereas a
coral reef can suffer from it. Also, the 'real', large coral reefs are
restricted to warm water, worm reefs aren't.

Does that help?

Regards, Christine

Dr. Christine Schönberg, PhD
Dept. of Zoosystematics & Morphology
Fachbereich 7 - Biology, Geo- & Environmental Sciences
Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg
ph +49-441-7983373
fax +49-441-7983162
email christine.schoenberg at mail.uni-oldenburg.de
internet http://www.uni-oldenburg.de/zoomorphology/Whoiswho.html

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